GRAHAM ROBERTSON AGAINST THE PRESS

Case Number: 2619

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2017

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Press

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Discrimination
Unfair Coverage

Overview

On Monday May 1, 2017 The Press published an article titled ‘Demise of a Canty fishing paradise’ that discussed the pollution of the Irwell and Selwyn Rivers and range of associated creeks and streams. Using the recollections of a resident, the demise of fish in the rivers is outlined. Comment from the Chief Scientist at Environment Canterbury is included that states that that the streams do have poor water and they have suffered from low flows (driven by low rainfall and extraction for irrigation). The Chief Scientist also states the water quality in the streams has improved due to ‘stock exclusion’ and ‘better riparian management’.

The Complaint

Mr Robertson complains about the article citing Principle 1 Accuracy, Fairness and Balance and Principle 7 Discrimination and Diversity.

He argues, under Principle 1, that:

* The picture of the cows in the stream accompanying the article is misleading. The picture is a stock photo and not of the streams in question. He also argues that image of the stock in the stream does not fit the current practice where most waterways are fenced.

* The other two photos are of streams other than those discussed in the article.

* The placement of the story as front page misleads the reader by suggesting it is breaking news.

* That the mention of land-intensification and agricultural pollution as a reason for pollution is inaccurate as this area has historically always been farmed.

Under Principle 7, he argues that farming families have unduly been the subject of unfair reporting.

The Response

The Press, through deputy editor Kamala Hayman, responded to the complaint in the following ways:

* The stock were in a stream mentioned in the article. However, the photo was taken in 2000 and Ms Hayman acknowledges that the date of the photo should have accompanied the image.

* The two other images were taken at the stream in question.

* The story is news worthy, is part of a long-running issue and is balanced as it included comment from an expert (the Environment Canterbury Chief Scientist).*

* The district has always been farmed but Ms Hayman cites numbers to show that the number of cows in the district has doubled in recent years and farming techniques have changed over the past century to include more fertiliser and irrigation.

The Decision

Water quality issues and the role of farming in them is a long-running and on-going issue that attracts media coverage. This article must be viewed in this context and a range of views are included in the article. Given this, it is a long bow to suggest farming families have been discriminated against. The complaint under Principle 7 is not upheld.

In regard to the issues raised under Principle 1, editors must be free to place articles where they see fit. Placing an article on the front page of the paper cannot be inferred to imply that issue is ‘breaking’ but rather that it is deemed of enough importance by the editor to take this position.

In regard to the photo of the cattle in the stream, it is unfortunate that the date was omitted. A reader could expect that this photo represented current practice and may not be so. This error falls well below what would be expected as industry best practice.

The Press Council is not an expert in identifying streams in the Selwyn district. We will takeThe Press at its word that the photos were taken where they claimed they were. Further, the Press Council is not an expert in the intensification of farming. However, a quick investigation suggests that the numbers of cows in the Selwyn district has likely to have risen (Dairy NZ statistics for the Canterbury region for 2015/16 show 930 086 cows compared with 891 843 in 2013/14). Therefore, the complaint’s claims of inaccurate reporting cannot be substantiated.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, John Roughan, Hank Schouten, Mark Stevens, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.